January 2006 | Case Studies | DC Solutions

Hot Solutions in Cold Storage

Tags: Warehousing

To break the ice in its first cold storage 3PL facility, Frozen Assets implements a new WMS and wireless handheld data capture technology.

Most of the top refrigerated warehousing service providers have been around for years. In 2004, however, a new company entered the market and immediately carved itself a nice piece of the pie.

Frozen Assets Cold Storage made its debut as a third-party logistics provider (3PL) in November 2004—launching its cold logistics operations in a 267,000-square-foot refrigerated warehouse—and hasn't looked back since.

The Chicago-based company was previously in the meat industry, so moving into cold storage was a natural fit, says Jerry Cronin, Frozen Assets' IT director. "Our operations now focus on a variety of food products, including meat, poultry, seafood, baked goods, and produce," he says.

With an entirely new enterprise to operate, Frozen Assets built its warehouse from the ground up. The space is broken up into 110,000 square feet for frozen products, and 70,000 square feet for dry goods; the rest is cooler space. Included in that space are three 135-degree blast cells, each with space for 45 pallets.

The warehouse also has a 10-door refrigerated rail siding, and 22 truck bays that open to a 40,000-square-foot inbound/outbound dock. The facility is run by 36 employees who work two shifts daily.

Going Wireless

Knowing that it wanted to develop smart solutions from the start, Frozen Assets built its new facility to include state-of-the-art technology. The company serves about 80 customers with a diverse product spread, so finding technology that could meet all its customer demands was a challenge.

The first piece of the technology puzzle was finding the right software system. After researching several options, Frozen Assets selected Headwater Technology Solutions Inc.'s SmartEnterprise 2 logistics software as its management and control system.

Hosted by Headwater, the system allows users to communicate with the Headwater data center over high-speed data lines as if the system was on site.

The hosted system includes multiple seats for the SmartEnterprise 2 integration platform and the WarehouseLogic 2 warehouse management system (WMS). The system fit Frozen Assets' needs for a quick launch, along with the flexibility to meet its growth plans, Cronin says.

Clearing the Fog

Frozen Assets also added wireless data collection tools to integrate with the new software. Because refrigerated and frozen warehouse space is a punishing environment, Frozen Assets needed rugged tools that could handle the environmental stress and still operate efficiently.

"Scanners that aren't rugged will fog when working in different temperature zones," says Cronin. "Our employees move between temperatures often so ruggedness was essential. We didn't want to lose productivity while waiting for scanners to de-fog."

Headwater helped Frozen Assets in its scanner search and led the company to Psion Teklogix, a mobile computing solutions provider based in Canada.

After completing site visits and comparing different scanners, Frozen Assets selected Psion Teklogix's freezer-rated 7035 handheld terminals and 8260 vehicle-mount computers for its new operations. The solution also includes Psion Teklogix's 9500 High Availability Communications Server, which acts as a hub for the wireless infrastructure.

A Good Match

Frozen Assets and Psion Teklogix were a good fit from the start, according to Jim Higgins, regional sales manager for Psion Teklogix. "Through a mutual relationship with the International Association of Refrigerated Warehouses, we knew Frozen Assets and it knew us," he says.

Psion Teklogix's wireless RF system gives Frozen Assets real-time data availability, which was key for the new operations. "I've been involved in several warehousing projects in the past that didn't use RF technology," Higgins says. "The result is low productivity and high error rates."

With the wireless system, not only does the warehouse have a firm grip on where inventory is at all times, but so do customers.

"Customers can log on to our web site at any time and see product location and status," Cronin explains. "This is an improvement over systems that require downloading data to a WMS before accessing updated information. Operating in real time is the only way to go."

The Drill Down

The implementation was straightforward for Psion Teklogix, says Higgins. After determining Frozen Asset's operating system and needs, "we drilled down to see how it could use our devices," he explains.

Higgins was impressed with the research Frozen Assets conducted to select its technology partner and equipment, as well as its willingness to seek advice.

"Frozen Assets came to us asking what specific scanners it needed," he says. "We went through the company's processes and helped lay out a bar-coding scheme. Frozen Assets is new to warehouse technology, so we served as a consultant."

The total implementation process took about six weeks. "Our technicians conducted an on-site survey, and came back with a report and bill of materials," Higgins says. "Three weeks later, we put together an equipment order."

Frozen Assets overbuilt the system because it was worried about durability in the freezer environment. "But we had no problems," Cronin says.

Frozen Assets uses the Psion Teklogix scanners from receiving through to shipping. When a truck arrives at the dock door, employees input the bill of lading information into handheld units. They then scan the pallets into the system as they receive them, comparing them to the bill of lading.

As employees begin put-away operations, the truck-mounted computers receive instructions from the WMS about which location to use.

"We set up profiles for incoming shipments based on customer and product size," explains Cronin. "Drivers can use the location the scanner suggests, or choose an alternate."

Each location on the racks has its own bar-code label. As employees put products away, they scan the products and the location, both of which are automatically updated in the WMS.

When it comes to picking, Frozen Assets has two basic types of customers: pallet in/pallet out and case pick.

"With case pick, we pick products from various locations and build mixed pallets for customers," Cronin says.

Trucks move pallets to the dock, where employees package them for shipping, and scan items before they go out for delivery.

Implementation and training for the scanners was relatively simple for Frozen Assets. "The system is user friendly," Cronin notes. "The scanners have 78 keys, including function keys, which is a manageable number to learn."

In addition, the scanners have large keypads—essential when users wear gloves, as they do most of the time in Frozen Assets' refrigerated environment.

Though everything has gone well at the new Frozen Assets facility and Cronin is pleased with the company's progress, he would do one thing differently, he says.

"I would plan more accurately for implementation, because we were ready to roll faster than expected," he explains. "Luckily, Psion Teklogix was able to accommodate us ahead of schedule."

While Frozen Assets has only opened one facility to date, the company isn't stopping there. Its growth plans call for eight locations to be in place within the next 10 years. It intends to have a multi-modal, coast-to-coast operation.

Because the first facility has been so successful, Frozen Assets will duplicate the systems and equipment in the original DC in each future facility.

"We want to make this facility a cookie cutter for future distribution centers," says Cronin. "We chose the right WMS and equipment and everything has worked well. There's no need to change it."